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Posted at 03:15 PM ET, 06/21/2011

The next big labor brawl

So today the labor movement got some good news when the National Labor Relations Board proposed new rules to streamline and speed up the unionization process. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and some Republicans, predictably, are already denouncing the plan and insisting it amounts to Obama’s latest giveaway to Big Labor.

In so doing, however, they are attacking reforms that are eminently reasonable and really quite modest. And they’re only reminding us of the broader story here, which is that the anti-union atmosphere among some conservatives has really grown quite hysterical at this point.

The new proposal would deal with a longtime complaint of union officials: That employers are successfully using delaying tactics to ensure that it takes a long time from when they first petition for a union election until it actually happens. The NLRB says average duration for this process in 2008 was 57 days. This time lag allows employers and anti-union forces more time to mobilize against unionization and to lean on individual workers not to join.

The proposal would attempt to solve this problem by cutting back on frivolous litigation and reforming the process of communication and document filing, in order to remove manufactured delays from the process. Click through for details, but the gist is that the new rules don’t even fix a date certain for union elections; they only represent a general effort to tighten things up. But some on the right are already complaining that it will unfairly game the system in labor’s favor.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is already denouncing the reforms as one of the Obama administration’s “biggest gifts yet to organized labor,” as well as an attempt to “bully companies into relinquishing their free speech rights.” The public has 75 days to comment on the new rules before they come into effect, so you can expect a major campaign against them.

But groups like the Chamber can be expected to attack virtually anything anyone proposes in the way of labor reform of any kind. For instance, the Chamber attacked an altogether unrelated reform proposal some time ago in the same terms, denouncing it as “probably the most significant handout to organized labor that we’ve seen in this administration.”

What’s more, this is a fairly moderate proposal. It doesn’t even go as far as a recent proposed compromise that was floated by centrist groups and — unlike the current one — would have fixed a date certain for union elections.

Finally, as the head of the National Labor Relations Board points out, this sort of reform is exactly in keeping with the board’s mission, which is to facilitate the process by which union representation questions are resolved.

The larger context is important: As events in Wisconsin and other states show, there is a concerted effort under way to hobble unions so badly that they are unable to carry out their most basic function — organizing workers. And so anti-union forces must stop anything that enables this — indeed, anything that maintains a balance-of-power equation that includes unions — at all costs. So you’re going to see an all out effort to block this one, too, by tying it up in Congressional hearings. And yet, while this is a dark moment for organized labor, here’s one instance where unions just might win one.

By  |  03:15 PM ET, 06/21/2011

 
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